ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Smart Chicken? is a relatively new and rare bird on the poultry-marketing scene, according to MBA Poultry, LLC, in Tecumseh, Neb.
MBA Poultry has included Hillsboro as a potential site for plant expansion.
Smart Chicken is marketed as a premium, fresh chicken with emphasis on health, food safety, value and taste.
Key to the product is the unique process MBA Poultry uses: the birds are air chilled instead of water chilled. This results, according to the company, in added flavor, better texture and enhanced visual appeal.
The company also contends that air-chilling eliminates the possibility of cross-contamination in processing and has up to 10 percent more meat and 10 percent less water per pound.
At least three grocery stores in Marion County carry Smart Chicken.
The process has been utilized in Europe for the past 27 years, but MBA Poultry is the first such company in the United States, according to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
The department reports the plant in Tecumseh processes 200,000 birds a week.
According to a Smart Chicken Web site, Mark Haskins, company president and chief executive officer, encountered the air-chilling process while on a trip to Europe.
Haskins founded MBA Poultry in 1998 in a refurbished factory formerly opened by the Campbell Soup Co.
After several months of dismal financial reports, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed its doors in January 2000.
But the fledgling company, according to an article in the Grand Island Independent newspaper, worked with its financing company to restructure the business and reopened the same month.
MBA Poultry was awarded a $1 million loan of community development block grant funds as part of an overall $9.5 financial package that helped the factory restart.
MBA Poultry is the largest employer in Tecumseh, a town of 1,700 people located in southeast Nebraska.